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Wright v. Providence Care Center, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 7, 2017




         Defendants Providence Care Center, LLC and Beaver Valley Associates, LLC (“Defendants”) filed a motion (ECF No. 14) to partially dismiss the First Amended Civil Action Complaint (“Amended Complaint”) filed by Plaintiff Shawanna Wright (“Wright”) in this employment discrimination case. Wright filed a response in opposition to the motion, Defendants filed a reply, and the motion is ripe for disposition.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff is an African-American female with various disabilities, including asthma oral allergy syndrome. She was employed by Defendants for thirteen years as a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”). Wright alleges that she was subjected to discriminatory and retaliatory treatment because of her race, disability or requests for reasonable accommodations. (Amended Complaint, ECF No. 12).

         On September 15, 2015, shortly after RN Supervisor Bobbye Lutz (“Lutz”) assigned her to a less-desirable unit, Wright filed her first charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (ECF No. 15-1). On June 29, 2016, the EEOC issued a Notice of Dismissal and right to sue letter to Wright. (ECF No. 15-2). Wright did not file a lawsuit within ninety days of receiving the EEOC letter.

         Following the first EEOC charge, Wright alleges that she was subjected to continued hostility, including an accusation of intimidating a co-worker into taking a shift on a different floor, and two pretextual disciplines. Wright did not plead any facts regarding the circumstances leading to these disciplines. She avers that Lutz told her that unit manager Lisa Brewer (“Brewer”) recommended them, and Brewer signed a statement denying it. (Amended Complaint ¶¶ 32-34).

         From March through July 11, 2016, Wright was on medical leave. She returned to work without any restrictions. Wright alleges that the discriminatory and retaliatory treatment continued. For example, Lutz did not believe that Wright was able to work and should go on Social Security disability; in May 2016, on a day that Wright returned to work, management provided a bushel of bananas to the nurses, even though they knew Wright was allergic to them; Lutz went out of her way to ignore Wright in the hallways, but greeted white, non-disabled co-workers; Lutz accused Wright of bullying a co-worker into taking a shift on a different floor; Lutz falsely accused Wright of violating the policy for making medication errors, while a white, non-disabled co-worker made multiple medication errors but was not punished; and management lost Wright's requests for days off and required her to work on days she requested to be off. (Amended Complaint ¶ 38).

         Wright was terminated by Lutz in September 2016, purportedly for getting into an altercation with another employee. Wright alleges that during the incident, the other employee was yelling and being insubordinate while she remained calm. (Amended Complaint ¶ 39).

         Wright filed a second charge on October 14, 2016, with the EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”). The charge alleges that Wright was terminated based on her race, national original or health and in retaliation for her earlier complaints about discrimination. (ECF No. 15-3). She avers that she properly exhausted her administrative remedies and filed this lawsuit within ninety days of receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC after her second charge. The Amended Complaint has six counts, most of which contain multiple distinct legal theories: (1) violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., for actual/perceived/record of disability discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment; (2) parallel disability theories under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951 et seq.; (3) violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., for interference and retaliation; (4) violation of § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, for racial discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment; (5) violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a et seq., for racial discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment; and (6) parallel racial discrimination theories under the PHRA. Defendants seek dismissal of part of counts one and two and all of counts four, five and six.

         The Amended Complaint contains numerous allegations of conduct occurring in July 2015, which formed the basis for Wright's first EEOC charge. See, e.g., Amended Complaint ¶¶ 26-31. The Amended Complaint has a footnote which explains that these facts are pled “as an unlawful employment action (adverse action) under Section 1981 and PHRA only, ” and are relevant to the Title VII and ADA claims to show evidence of pretext, ongoing antagonism and a pattern of discrimination/retaliation. (Amended Complaint at 6). In her response to the pending motion to dismiss, Wright represents that she does not assert claims under Title VII or the PHRA based on conduct prior to December 15, 2015 (300 days prior to her second EEOC charge). (ECF No. 20 at 11-12).

         Standard of Review

         The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently reiterated the standards and procedures that a district court must apply when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss:

A complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” But a detailed pleading is not generally required. The Rules demand “only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.; see also Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010). Although the plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, it does require a pleading to show “more than a sheer possibility that a NGL has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint that pleads facts “merely consistent with a defendant's liability...stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.
Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. First, it must “tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675. Second, it should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679; see also Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 224 (3d Cir. 2011) (“Mere restatements of the elements of a claim are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” (citation and editorial marks omitted)). Finally, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786-87 (3d Cir. 2016). The court explained that a plaintiff need not specify whether she intends to proceed under a “mixed-motive” or a “pretext” theory. Id. at 788. A complaint “need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. Instead, all that is required to meet the post-Twombly pleading standard is “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s].” Id. at 789.

         “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010). In ruling on the pending motion, the court will consider the EEOC charges attached to Defendants' brief. See Zanaglio v. J.J. Kennedy, Inc., No. CV 17-874, 2017 WL 3492696, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 15, 2017) (considering PHRC filings a defendant provided as exhibits to its motion to dismiss).

         Legal Analysis

         Defendants assert two arguments for dismissal: (1) only those claims fairly encompassed within the scope of the second EEOC charge are timely; and (2) Wright failed to allege sufficient facts to support a plausible claim of race discrimination. Defendants contend that if the court dismisses the § 1981 and Title VII race discrimination claims, it should dismiss or decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Wright's parallel race discrimination claims under the PHRA.

         1. Claims Based on Conduct Prior to December 19, 2015

         Defendants argue that the ADA, Title VII, PHRA and § 1981 claims based on discrete actions occurring more than 300 days prior to the second EEOC charge are time barred. Wright affirms that she is not asserting ADA, Title VII or PHRA claims[1] based on conduct prior to December 19, 2015. (See ECF No. 20 at 11-12) (“The adverse action in this case occurred in September of 2016, when Plaintiff was terminated. Plaintiff agrees with Defendants that discrete ...

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